Rahim Rahimov's blog

US election 2016: American reputation at stake

November 7, 2016

The 2008 US presidential election bolstered the American reputation abroad as Afro-American Barack Obama with humble background was elected the US president. It proved to foreign audiences that the American democracy works perfectly and the American dream evolves. The 2016 US election seems to be not delivering the same or similar message to the world even if the US could see the first female president in its history. An implication of the 2016 election campaign is that it triggers a negative impact on the reputation of the US democracy and elections abroad particularly in authoritarian, non-democratic regimes, and vulnerable democracies. Both the republican and democratic presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have a share in that negative impact.


Trump’s locker room comments regarding women and subsequent allegations by various women regarding his sexual misconduct caused a scandal. For foreign audience, the serial allegations by those women have another meaning: why those ladies waited so long and popped up at this particular time? One of them Karena Virginia stated at a press conference that she had undergone that experience with Trump in 1998. It sounds suspicious that having waited 18 years she came up just a few weeks prior to the voting.


Donald Trump’s comments on Muslims, immigrants and other stuff didn’t result in drop in its popularity. Contrarily, his popularity saw a hike. It suggests that a significant portion of the American society experiences real difficulties and is dissatisfied with the establishment. Trump addressed exactly those troubled people thus hitting the American dream abroad.


Meanwhile Trump suggests that the US election system is ‘rigged’ and is not going to accept the result in case of his defeat. Perhaps this comment had most negative effect for the American image abroad in particular in authoritarian and non-democratic regimes. Now they have a good counter argument that the US democracy and election system is far from perfect.


Furthermore, Clinton also, though indirectly, questions the legitimacy of the US elections because the FBI’s email investigation renewal might ultimately affect the outcome of the elections. Clinton’s email scandal has been a focus of the presidential campaign and debates and has drawn significant media and popular attention. The FBI reopened the email investigation just handful days before the voting. Clinton and her staff lambasted the FBI for reopening the investigation at this crucial time.


In fact, Hillary Clinton’s campaign also causes harmful implications for the US foreign image. One thing is that incumbent president Barack Obama and first lady Michel have been actively campaigning for Hillary Clinton. This might have been ok, but, they often do this through personal attacks on Trump. Clinton blames Trump for alleged links to Russian president Putin and even calls him Putin’s ‘puppet’. The Hillary campaign extensively uses character assassination techniques against Trump.


An interesting point in the US presidential elections is related to succession of power. Bush Sr. and Bush Jr., father and son served as the presidents of the US. Bill Clinton was the president. Now his wife Hillary Clinton is just a step away from the White House. It is absolutely lawful and there is nothing wrong with that family members become presidents. Nevertheless, there might be a question: it doesn’t look good, does it? Such precedents may trigger negative connotations as arrival of members of a family in power is usually associated with authoritarian and non-democratic regimes. Of course, there is a counter arguments that everyone has right to become president and also this or that person is the best candidate. But even this argument itself triggers a counter argument: the US is a super-power with great traditions of democracy, institutions, economic, cultural, and educational might, why such a unique nation is so scarce of sophisticated candidates for the presidency. If Clinton is elected, this would be the second case when family members become president of the United Stated during just a couple of decades.


Obama warns that the fate of the US and the world at stake, and urges voter to vote for Hillary Clinton. However, irrespective of the outcome of the voting and whether Trump or Clint wins, what is at stake for sure is the American reputation abroad. A negative consequence would be the damaged international reputation of the US democracy and election system. The president to be elected, whether Trump or Clinton, will face the same challenge to repair that image and deal with the negative connotations or consequences. This challenging task will be even more complicated by the inevitable fact that the president himself or herself to be elected was/is part of that damage.

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